Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Let's stick with the facts.
“If we’re going to discuss this case, let’s stick with the facts.” This early line from Juror #4 crystalized for me what makes him unique in our jury room. He tries to pare away the passions and prejudices he sees from the other jurors and focus on the evidence presented, which sounds very much like the way people believe they’re supposed to behave as a juror. But people are complex; as actors, we strive to truthfully portray these complexities. To bring this juror to life, I need to find out what drives such a seemingly noble goal, because it is in our struggles and failures that we often find our humanity.
When I start working on a role, the first place I look is, predictably, the script. Here is where I’ll find, not just the lines, but also the facts about the character and clues about what makes him a complex person, beyond any stereotype that might initially jump out at me.
There are some clues in the script that suggest that Juror #4 is not without prejudice, but is actively trying to suppress his prejudices in the jury room. He is not always successful, and in fact, the act of suppressing his prejudices causes him to focus on certain pieces of evidence over others that may be just as, or even more, important. His arrogance of relying on the individual pieces of evidence, and his dismissal of the reasons that evidence came to be, blinds him to the full context of the story he finds himself judging.
You may be familiar with the phrase, “honesty without compassion is cruelty.” Juror #4, in trying to focus solely on the facts of the case and ignore the reasons why the suspect, the other jurors, and even himself, acts the way they do, pursues an outcome that, if incorrect, is tragically cruel. Part of my job, as an actor, is to discover what moves Juror #4 to deny his own experiences and look only at the evidence, so I can play the role truthfully for our audiences.
When I started work on the role, even before the first rehearsal, I read the script several times, trying to get a feeling for who this character is. What do his word choices say about him? What do the other characters say about him? What is his physicality? Most importantly, what facts are given about the character, and what clues can I find to piece together what motivates this character to make the choices he makes?
What I try to do initially in the rehearsal process is to develop possibilities for the character. I discuss them with the director, and even start to put them into play in rehearsal, to better understand how the director sees the character and the play. This period of discovery is usually some of the most important and fulfilling time spent in rehearsal, so it’s wonderful when I’m working with a director like Richard, who starts diving deep into the character work from the start. It elevates the actor’s work beyond the “move to Stage Right and sit” mechanics, and sets the cast firmly on the path of making these characters come to life, becoming people with passions, principles, convictions, and failures, as we take them from the pages and create the people they are.
Thanks for reading,